Studies show that the benefits of regular yoga practice include better sleep, mental and emotional health management, and stress reduction. Yoga can also help with healthy eating and lifestyle habits.
In the western world, yoga is often mistaken as a purely physical discipline. A web search of the word “yoga” conjures images of yogis moving through complicated poses and feats of strength. This picture can be alienating, but it does not represent all of the aspects that comprise yoga.
The practice of yoga is an “8-limbed” path based in Indian philosophy. Only one of those limbs, asana, meaning seated posture in Sanskrit, refers to the physical aspect. Along with asana, the limbs are designed to give tools to lead a meaningful, self-disciplined life. The first 4 limbs: the yamas, the niyamas, asana and pranayama, describe living the practice of yoga in the world. Ayurveda, the sister-science of yoga, is outside of the 8-limbed path but is a complementary tool that uses nutrition and lifestyle choices to heal disease and maintain good health.
The 5 yamas represent moral disciplines to live by. The yamas give us insight into our true nature. The word yama means restriction. They provide us with opportunities to practice restraint in our outside environment. The yamas are:
- Ahimsa (non-harming)
- Satya (truthfulness, honesty)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (moderation, control of the senses)
- Aparigraha (non-attachment, non-hoarding)
The 5 niyamas represent the act of living with focus and ethical self-disciplines. The niyamas give us tools to shape our attitude towards ourselves. The niyamas are:
- Saucha (purity, cleanliness)
- Santosa (contentment)
- Tapas (disciplined use of energy)
- Svadhyaya (self-study)
- Isvarapranidhana (surrender to God/a higher power)
As mentioned above, asana refers to the postures. Practicing physical activity regularly builds tapas and nourishes our bodies with movement. Asana practice does not need to be rigorous. Any conscious body movement can be considered asana. There are many types of yoga classes offered in the west. Trying out different styles can help you find what works best for your body and lifestyle. Find links below for some popular virtual classes.
30-min Yoga for Beginners – Jessamyn Stanley
Yin Yoga for Beginners – Yoga with Kassandra
In Sanskrit, Pranayama means “unrestricted life-force” and is the act of conscious breathing. Since breathing comes naturally, it’s easy to fall into unconscious patterns and feel out of control. When we bring our attention to the breath, we can use it to increase energy, soothe the nervous system, and improve mental clarity.
3-Minute Guided Breathing with Christina M. Luberto, PhD
Although it is not part of the 8-limbs of yoga, Ayurveda gives us the tools to tune into how we feel and heal the imbalances. Called the sister-science of yoga, Ayurveda is an elemental science that addresses health of mind, body, and spirit. In Ayurveda there are three “life forces” called doshas. The doshas are made up of 5 elements: air, ether, water, earth, and fire. Doshas provide a point of reference to identify how 10 qualities, or gunas, and their opposites manifest in our health.
In the springtime, the earth begins to thaw out and prepares to host new life. The melting snow dissolves into the soil, making the land cold, wet, and heavy. We often feel this seasonal change in our bodies. In winter, we tend to avoid the cold by staying indoors and finding comfort in rich foods. By the spring, the lack of movement and increased intake can lead to feelings of heaviness. The earth is warming up, but still cool and rainy. To bring our bodies into balance, we may eat light, hot, or spicy foods to fight off the cold. It is healing to make use of the longer days by spending time moving in the sunlight.
Ayurveda recognizes that everyone has a unique combination of qualities and addressing their individual constitution can lead to ideal health. To learn more in depth about Ayurveda, the 3 doshas, and their qualities, read more here.
Yoga is a holistic and accessible way to balance the mind and body. Practical benefits of regular yoga practice include stress-reduction, mental/emotional health management, and healthy eating and lifestyle habits. The 8-limbs and Ayurvedic science provide the tools to explore what works best for you. For an overview of the leading scientific evidence of the benefits of yoga, read more from the NIH here.